Editorial: Few options on snow makeup days

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 13, 2011

The fifth snow day in a row has parents in Rowan-Salisbury and Kannapolis scrambling again to make child-care arrangements and keep kids busy. Icy patches persist on several secondary roads, and school officials are right to err on the side of caution. They are also smart to include Saturday school as an option for making up missed days.
Here we go again. The only thing that changes in the debate over snow days is the cast of characters. Administrators come and go. Children grow up; parents move on to other concerns. But snow and ice cover the county at some point virtually every winter, and the script is always the same. The public questions and ridicules administratorsí decisions on whether to call off school and then complains about makeup days.
First of all, count yourself lucky if snow days are your biggest concern right now. On the other side of the country Thursday, 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green was laid to rest after a deranged shooter gunned her and several other people down.
Back in chilly North Carolina, the Rowan-Salisbury School System has plenty of company in the struggle to adjust its calendar. Charlotte-Mecklenburg is taking heat (deservedly) for scheduling makeup classes on Martin Luther King Day. Cabarrus County has scheduled classes on two consecutive Saturdays, starting tomorrow. Some systems are leaving families in limbo by delaying the decision until February.
Saturday school has its disadvantages. Typically, classes are held for only a half-day ó better than nothing but far from ideal. And attendance is poor. Carefully coordinated family schedules fall apart when you start digging into weekend time. Unfortunately, the snow has already done that for everyone.
Maybe the new, Republican-controlled legislature will take some scheduling pressure off the schools. Bowing to complaints from the tourism industry, several years ago a heavy-handed General Assembly mandated that the 180-day school year start no earlier than Aug. 25 and end by June 10. That was a mistake. School systems need more autonomy in setting their calendars. The result of the state law has been a compressed schedule with no wiggle room, as evidenced by the call for Saturday school. The state should allow school to start earlier in August or run later in June to include more potential makeup days. People would still complain, but at least administrators would have more options.
School officials dislike these calendar changes as much as parents do, if not more. Superintendents know the script; theyíll never please everyone. But if students are safe going to and from school, and classes are held 180 days, theyíve done their job regarding snow days.